You know by now that P'Niche is (moderately to overly) obsessed with all things French royalty, so am surprised it took me so long to get to this little (and nearly hidden) jewel box - la Chapelle Expiatoire. And why was this mini church erected? Welp, it wasn't always champagne, chocolates, and Masquerade Balls for our royals. Once they lost they heads (gulp), to the French Revolution's guillotine, they needed a royal (and consecrated) resting place...
Let's head over to the stunning, residential 8th arrondissement of Paris.
Not only is this area home to Paris' most charming Parc Monceau, these are the original grounds that King Louis XVI and his Queen Marie Antoinette were laid to rest after their respective trials and guillotine executions.
The site and chapel are dedicated to them and their memory.
It was a team of Napoléon's favorite architects, (Pierre François, Léonard Fontaine and Charles Percier), who deigned this beautiful chapel in 1816 (in the Neoclassical style of the time.)
This design style emphasizes the wall rather than chiaroscuro (or reliefs). It maintains separate, symmetrical identities to each of its parts. Associated with thoughts of Enlightenment (appropriate for the times), it was further highlighted by French art students who had been trained in Rome.
Sharing the 3 million livres (currency of the time) cost for the construction was King Louis XVIII, in tandem with the Duchesse d'Angoulême.
More on these regal peeps soon, so do subscribe to the Parisian Niche to return and learn more...
As we move forward to the reign of King Charles X (1826), the chapel sees its completion.
Good King Chuck even personally blessed the cornerstone of la Chapelle Expiatoire.
As you approach this humble chapel, you will note an inscription overhead, which, translated to English, reads:
"King Louis XVIII raised this monument to consecrate the place where were found the mortal remains of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette, reposed for 21 years, and transferred on January 21, 1815, to the royal tomb of Saint Denis."
One of the first things you will notice when you enter the (pedimented tetrastyle) portico is how absolutely silent and empty the space is. It feels as though you can hear your own heartbeat echo in the chamber - it's truly reverent, as it was designed to be.
As you see, there are also two gorgeous marble statues, meant to represent Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.
Regarding these marble masterpieces, the statue representing Louis XVI (ascending into heaven with the help of an angel) is the artistry of Françoise Bosio.
The statue representing Queen Marie Antoinette (supported by religion) is the creation of Jean Pierre Cortot.
The up-close detail on the pair is just breathtaking...
The magnificent domed space lies at the center of a Greek Cross. This means that all four arms of the cross would be of equal length, and is one of the most common Christian cross forms.
This architectural Greek Cross is formed by three (coffered), half domed apses. Each of these apses has an oculi, or eye, which enhances the natural light already filtering in through the main, dominant dome.
At the central, back end, of the chapel is a modest black and white marble altar.
This simple altar is symbolically fixated to represent where the actual remains of the executed royals were said to be found.
The silence that surrounds you really puts you into a place where you can imagine the moment their remains were located and identified - just riveting.
On both sides of the round chapel, you will notice stairs that descend. Let's go...
While we are heading downstairs, it's more than appropriate to let you know that the late King and Queen were not the only ones who were buried here.
The site is actually in the footsteps of the former cemetery of the Madeleine catholic parish (about a ten minute walk away). While the royals were deposited here, there were also around 500 others, including: Charlotte Corday (who killed Jean-Paul Marat - in his bathtub - girl don't play), Olympe de Gouges (female social reformer and writer) and Madame du Barry (the very beloved mistress of Louis XV).
So, now that we have arrived downstairs, we find ourselves in the crypt.
It is worth noting that the crypt is open to the public, however, the chapel's sacristy is not.
The difference is that the crypt is the underground burial place (like Paris' Catacombs).
A sacristy, on the other hand, is the private room where the priest dresses and preps for a mass, so, that space remains off limits to the general public.
This crypt is very minimal in its design, with the highlight being a circular and brightly colored stained glass window, located directly behind the altar.
Believe it or not, you are nearly at the end of your visit. (The space will not take you more than 30-45 minutes to enjoy and P'Niche would be shocked if you ran into any other visitors or tourists while there).
As you exit the space, you will now walk through the Lateral Gallery.
This is where they hold mini exhibits and display bits of information that are meant to enhance your visit.
We can note now that in 1862, the cypress trees, which originally surrounded the chapel, were cut down and the delightful public park (Square Louis XVI) was designed and installed. There are often various floral exhibits there to enjoy.
Moving forward a few years to 1871, the new Paris Commune did demand that the chapel be destroyed, but thankfully, that demolition never occurred, and the chapel remains today (even if damaged heavily in 2009 - and repaired to it's former glory).
Each year, on January 21st, La Chapelle Expiatoire hosts a special memorial mass within the chapel, in honor of the death of King Louis XVI.
Ready to make your own visit to this mini memorial? Lovely!
La Chapelle Expiatoire
29, rue Pasquier - 75008
Métro: Saint-Augustin (Line 9)
October to March:
Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday
10am - 12:30pm // 1:30pm - 5:00pm
April to September:
Tuesday - Saturday
10:00am - 12:30pm // 1:30pm - 5:00pm
Tickets are currently €6
Free Entry with either the Paris Pass or Paris Museum Pass
While your visit to la Chapelle Expiatoire might be quite brief, this jewel is definitely worth a stop along your way in Paris. The nearby Saint Augustin Church is also worth a visit (more on that soon). So, are you ready to plan your time visiting this sacred ground? Let us know in the comments below et à bientôt!